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Warm To The Touch

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Everything hurt. Every muscle between his head and his toes felt like it had been stretched out and snapped back into place over and over until he was just one big ache. As he took a bottle of water out of Steve's refrigerator, Danny thought about his makeshift bed in the living room and winced. The way he felt, that couch wasn't going to be doing him any favors tonight.

Swallowing some aspirin and washing it down with the water, Danny wandered into the darkened living room, missing the distraction of the TV and yet having no desire to turn it on. It was nine p.m., and Steve was home, he was alive, and no TV in the world could distract Danny from the reality of the past forty-eight hours. And it wasn't that he wanted to sleep. No, he knew what that meant—a long night of tossing and turning and trying to forget images that he knew would linger in his memory forever.

He needed to do something, anything other than running upstairs every five minutes to check on Steve, who was sleeping the sleep of medicated exhaustion. That's how Danny got through the first part of the night, but as his body started to shut down, he either had to get a grip or just give up, grab a pillow, and curl up like a golden retriever guarding Steve's bedroom door.

As he waited for the latest round of aspirin to kick in, he kept moving, eventually finding himself in Steve's office. At any other time, he'd have made himself at home, maybe logged on to Steve's computer and goofed around for a while, but tonight it felt too invasive. Tonight it was his duty to stand watch, and that meant dealing with his own issues so that he'd be ready if and when Steve needed him.

His gaze crossed the computer's printer and moved on, then went back again. That sick feeling in the pit of his stomach reminded him that it was time—it was past time—that Danny took care of a responsibility that he'd put off for too long. He'd already done it once, when Grace was a baby, but so much had changed since then that his first version was now meaningless.

Setting aside his bottle, he turned on the desk lamp and sat down, then tugged out a sheet of paper from the printer. He found a pen in the desk's top drawer and pulled it out, doodling on a scratch pad to make sure it worked. Then, taking a deep breath, he started writing.

Dear Grace—

No, that sounded way too formal. He balled up the paper and tossed it in the trash can.

Gracie—

No, that wasn't right, either. He sat back in the old chair, the wood creaking as he shifted his weight. There was really only one way to start this letter. He discarded that sheet as well, then started over once more.

Hey, Monkey—

If you're reading this, then something bad happened to me and your mom thinks you're grown up enough to understand what I have to tell you.

Rubbing the edge of his hand across his brow, he paused to try and figure out exactly what he wanted to say. Gracie understood without a doubt that he loved her, he made sure to tell her so every day. But Danny also knew that as Grace got older, she was going to begin to question some of his choices. He needed to somehow explain to her how his life had changed since coming to Hawaii, and how those changes had led him into the jungles of North Korea with little hope of coming back alive.

"We come back with Steve—or we don't come back." How could Danny explain that he'd never been so terrified in his entire life? With those words, Joe had split Danny's world in two, ripping him apart and redefining him as something—someone—he never intended to be.

First off, you know I love you and I'd never leave you voluntarily. But you also know that I have a job, and part of that job is putting myself in situations that are scary and dangerous. If your mom gave you this letter, then one of those situations turned out badly.

You remember when we first moved to Hawaii and I became a police officer here? All I wanted was to do the work I loved and to spend time with you. And that was always true, except I found out that when I had to make a choice I never thought I'd have to make, I had to do the right thing, even if it meant that I'd never see you again. I know that probably doesn't make sense—I'm not sure it makes sense to me—but I always wanted to be a dad you could look up to, the way I looked up to my dad. I need you to know that every decision I've made, I've made because I love you and I want what's best for you.

I know this is a tough time for you, but I also know that your mom and Stan will always take good care of you and your little brother. And if you need anything, or if there's something you don't think you can take to them, remember you can always go to Steve. You can trust him with anything, any problem, and I know he'll—

The sound of a car door slamming caught his attention, and he rose to his feet. A quick glance at his watch told him it was only 9:30 but still, there shouldn't be anyone here this late. He crossed the living room and turned on a light, then opened the door before anyone could knock or ring the bell and disturb Steve. To his relief, he saw Chin and Malia walking toward him with grocery bags in their hands.

"Hey, guys," he said, his voice pitched low, "what's going on?"

Chin held up one of the plastic bags. "Brought in some supplies so you don't have to go out for a couple of days."

Danny pressed his hands together and bowed them into the house. "You are a life saver, Chin Ho Kelly. Come on through but be quiet, Steve's asleep upstairs."

He led them into the kitchen and had them set their bags on the counter. Malia pulled out a carton of milk and put it in the refrigerator, but before she could grab anything else, Danny stopped her with a hand on her arm.

"So, uh, I can't believe you're making an honest man out of Chin. What's up with that, anyway? He catch you in a weak moment?"

Malia grinned at Chin, who was stacking groceries on the kitchen table. "Well, when he's not being a stubborn idiot, he's actually pretty cute."

Danny rolled his eyes. "I'll take your word on that. C'mere." He pulled Malia into a hug and gave her a squeeze. "Welcome to the family, honey."

"Thanks, Danny." Malia kissed his cheek as he let her go, then returned to putting away the food. Danny stepped out and went to the base of the staircase, listening to hear if Steve was making any noise. When he didn't hear anything, he started back toward the kitchen but was intercepted when Chin walked out.

"Malia's going to put away the rest of the stuff. Can we talk a minute?"

Danny glanced upstairs, then nodded. "Yeah, let's step outside."

They walked out the front door and circled back until they were on the grassy slope off of the lanai. Sitting side by side on a low bench, both men stretched out their legs with identical moans.

"Okay, what's up?" Danny asked. He was so damned tired, but judging from the look on Chin's face, this was going to be a serious conversation.

"You have a problem, my friend."

Danny's eyebrows rose as he pointed at himself. "I have a problem? You're the one who's getting married."

"Funny. Listen, Lori was asking about you two."

"You two what?"

"You and Steve."

"Me and Steve? What exactly was she asking?"

Chin glanced over his shoulder as he lowered his voice. "If you and Steve are together."

Danny reared back. "Together. You mean together like—"

"Shhh, yeah, like that. She didn't mean any harm, she's still not used to you guys like me and Kono."

"What is there—" Danny took a deep breath and began again. "What is there to get used to?"

"You know, the way you two are around each other. The bickering, the fact that you come to work together every morning, the fact that you were living together, and you wearing Steve's shirt the other—"

"Hold on, hold on, wait up. We were not living together, okay? Steve was letting me bunk on his couch until I found my own place. Hell, Lori knows that. And the shirt thing? Steve got grape jelly on mine that morning and I yanked something off the wrong pile in the laundry room because we were called out on that job in Waikiki."

"Dude, you do your laundry at Steve's?"

"Well, yeah, but that's because it's free. I do a load, he throws in his stuff, too."

Chin didn't say anything but raised an eyebrow, forcing Danny to reassess the situation.

"Yeah, okay, I know it what it looks like, but I also know what it isn't. Besides," he said with a shrug, "I'm not Steve's type. And he's not mine," he added quickly.

"I know, brah, but it was more than a couple of weeks and now you're living in a hotel, like you two had a fight. And with Steve laid up, you're taking care of everything. People could, you know, make assumptions."

Danny spoke slowly, circling his thumb and forefinger for emphasis. "Steve is my partner. This is what partners do. If Lori has a problem with that—"

"No, she doesn't, in fact, just the opposite. She thinks she has the two of you figured out, especially after this last little adventure of ours."

"I don't get it."

Chin placed his hand on Danny's shoulder. "It's not just circumstantial evidence anymore. Anyone who'd seen you the last couple of days would be wondering the same thing."

Danny nodded and looked away. There wasn't any point in denying that he'd allowed his emotions to show, emotions he'd been very careful to keep concealed until now. He knew he could handle Lori and her suspicions, but Chin was another matter.

"Yeah, okay," he muttered. "But it's still not like you think."

Chin squeezed Danny's shoulder and let go. "Danny, you don't owe me any explanations."

"I know, it's just—" Danny sighed and got to his feet. "Look, everything's screwed up, but like you said, it's my problem. I'll take care of it."

Chin stood up. "Sounds ominous. You're not planning on doing anything stupid, are you?"

"Not intentionally," Danny said with a shrug, "but hey, it's me, you never know. Listen, as far as anyone coming to see Steve, for the next couple a days, I'm the dragon at the door. I don't care if it's the governor himself, no one gets in until Steve decides he's ready for visitors."

"Got it. I'll pass it on."

They walked back into the kitchen to find Malia sitting at the table, nibbling on a cookie as she checked something on her phone. Slipping the phone into her pocket as she stood up, she greeted Chin with a kiss and then turned to Danny.

"We got you guys a little of everything, so you should be set through the weekend at least. Oh, and there's a smoked turkey breast in there, and some potatoes and gravy, too. All you need to do tomorrow is heat it all up."

"And pie," Chin added. "I made sure there was pie. Pumpkin, pecan, and apple, just to cover the bases."

"Thanks, you guys. This is going to be one weird Thanksgiving. No Grace and a busted up SEAL I gotta babysit."

They started walking toward the door and as grateful as Danny was for all they'd done, he wasn't sorry to see them go. He had a lot of thinking to do and it was past time that he made sure Steve was okay.

"Do you get to have time with Grace at all?" Chin asked.

Danny opened the front door. "Depends on how Steve's doing, but if he gives me the okay, I'll bring her over this weekend. Unfortunately, not even I can compete with a brand new baby brother, so she may not be interested. Oh, hey wait a sec." He looked around and spotted his wallet next to his keys and gun on a nearby table. "What do I owe you for all this?"

"This round's on us," Chin said. "If you need anything else, don't hesitate to call, all right?"

Malia put her hand on Danny's arm. "I almost forgot—do you want me to check on Steve before I go?"

Danny hesitated, glancing up the stairs. For his own peace of mind, he wanted Malia to check Steve over, but Steve needed rest more than he needed someone poking him, even if it was a friend doing the poking.

"Nah, last time I looked in on him, he was dead to the world."

"Okay." Malia gave Danny a hug. "Call if anything changes."

"Will do."

They said their goodbyes and Danny went back into the house, turning off the light in the living room and walking into the kitchen. He peered into the refrigerator with no real interest, then remembered that he wanted to look in on Steve before heading to his old friend, the couch.

He knew he was fussing too much, but he couldn't help it, it's what he did when things were out of his control. Steve was all about acting like everything was fine, as though he'd only suffered a few cuts and a couple of bumps on the head. And it wasn't like there was an official medical report anywhere that Danny could read and get the real story. Joe had arranged for Steve to see a doctor once they'd gotten back to the island, the kind of doctor who didn't ask a lot of questions. According to Joe—who Danny trusted only a little more than he trusted Steve when it came to telling the truth about this stuff—at the very least, Steve had been roughed up pretty good. He was also exhausted, severely dehydrated, and had some burns and contusions that could only mean one thing.

Dropping his head into his hands, Danny tried to focus on anything other than the thought of Steve being tortured. He'd never considered himself a violent man, but he knew if he ever got the chance, he'd repay that son of a bitch Wo Fat twice over for every mark on Steve's body.

Unfortunately, his tired mind chose to replace the fears of his imagination with the very real image of Jenna's lifeless body. She'd deceived them all, she'd put Steve's life on the line, yet Danny couldn't find it within himself to condemn her. She'd made bad choices in the name of love, and Danny knew how easy it was to fall into that trap.

He heard a floorboard creak and lifted his head to see Steve standing in the kitchen doorway, frowning at him.

"You okay?" Steve asked.

"I think that's my line." Danny gave Steve a not-so-subtle, head-to-toe once-over, deciding that he looked okay, not great, but at least he had some color in his cheeks instead of that scary, battleship gray tinge they'd had when Danny had found him in the back of that damn truck. "How are you doin'? Straight up, don't tell me you're fine if you're not, okay? And don't tell me you've had worse, I hate that."

Steve scrubbed his hands over his stubbled face, grimacing as he dropped his hands. Danny watched and waited, fully expecting Steve to be honest and not pull any macho, stoic bullshit with him. He understood why Steve acted that way around the rest of the team, but both he and Steve knew better when it was just the two of them.

"I"ll live," Steve muttered. He leaned his shoulder against the door frame and crossed his arms over his chest. "Why are you still here?"

Danny shrugged. "Back to the couch for me, buddy, at least until you're able to move around without creaking or scaring the neighbors again."

"Danny, I don't need a—" Steve paused and glanced over his shoulder. "Yeah, okay. Not sure it's a great idea, you on a couch instead of that high end mattress at the hotel. You already look like you're about to keel over."

Danny flapped his hand, brushing aside Steve's concern. "Yeah, yeah, whatever, I'm fine. What are you doing up? What do you need?"

"Just some water. Chin and Malia leave?"

"Yeah. Oh, jeez, were we too loud? They were just—"

"Danny, it's fine, I've been awake for a while, they didn't wake me up."

"Right, okay." Danny opened the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water, then handed it to Steve. "You, uh, you hungry? You want a sandwich or something?"

Steve looked like he was going to say no, but seemed to change his mind again and nodded instead. "I could eat."

"Right." Danny clapped his hands together. "Go. Sit. I've got this."

Cracking open the bottle, Steve straightened up from his slouch. "I'm not an invalid, Danny, okay? I can make a sandwich."

Danny wanted to argue with Steve's statement, but decided not to. Steve still looked exhausted, with deep purple smudges beneath his eyes that matched the bruises scattered across his skin. Like Danny, he was dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, but unlike Danny, his body still bore witness to the ordeal he'd just been through. Yet as much as Danny wanted to take away Steve's pain, to make the past few days go away for both of them, getting back to normal was probably the best way to help Steve heal.

"Fine. Here." Danny gently lobbed a loaf of bread toward Steve, who caught it against his chest one-handed. "I'll get the pickles. And don't be so heavy-handed with the mayo this time."

After living together for several weeks, they had this routine down. It was comfortable, in fact way too comfortable for Danny, who had to keep reminding himself that any time like this with Steve was temporary and the domestic intimacy he longed for had only been an illusion. Living with Steve was simultaneously saving him and destroying him, so moving to the hotel had been his only choice.

They worked silently, passing food, utensils, and plates between them until they were seated at the table. Halfway through their makeshift meal, Steve spoke up.

"Are you okay about tomorrow?"

The fact that Steve hadn't looked Danny in the eye when he asked the question was puzzling. There was something beside the obvious behind that question, but Danny was too tired to try and figure it out.

He was also too tired to keep the bitterness out of his words as he answered.

"Which part?" Danny put down his half-eaten sandwich. "The part about another Thanksgiving that I don't get to spend with my kid? Or the part about Grace being a member of a family that no longer includes me?"

"Danny, c'mon, you'll always be Grace's dad, no matter what happens."

"Yeah, yeah, I know, don't mind me. If it's okay with you, I thought I'd bring her over here this weekend. Think you'll be up for it? I promise to keep her out of your hair."

"Yeah, no problem, any time you want." Steve popped a potato chip into his mouth, chewed, then swallowed. "Listen, I was thinking, since it's Thanksgiving, maybe while Grace is here we can barbecue, invite the team—"

"Whoa, whoa, hold on there, cowboy. You sure you're up for that much company?"

"I'm sure. More than ever, this is a time for family. I need you and—wait, do you hear that? Crap, that's Mary's ring tone. Where the hell is my phone?"

"Sounds like it's in your office." Danny stood up and reached for Steve's plate. "Go on, I'll clean up here."

It wasn't until Steve had gone back to bed and Danny was brushing his teeth in the downstairs bathroom that he remembered the half written letter he'd left on Steve's desk. After a quick swish and a spit, he hurried back into the office and turned on the desk lamp. The letter was right where he'd left it, so he grabbed it and folded it into thirds, stuffing it into the duffel bag he's shoved beneath an end table in the living room. He was betting that Steve hadn't seen it, having been too preoccupied with the latest drama that was Mary's life. Besides, Steve hadn't said anything when he'd finished with his call, and if there was a slump to his shoulders when he came out of the office, Danny attributed it to pain, exhaustion, Mary, or some combination of all three.

He knew he'd have to finish the letter soon. From the time he'd stood on the tarmac with the rest of the team to the moment he found Steve in the back of that truck, he'd lived in fear that he'd left too much undone, left too many words unsaid.

Now he had no excuses—and no more time. Grace deserved to know the truth about her father.

***

On the surface, the week started out on a good note. Chin and Malia got hitched without—well, a hitch—and they didn't take on a case until Tuesday, and by then, Steve was more or less back to full speed. He'd been reserved but relaxed when the team had joined them for a Sunday barbecue, and as usual, he'd been great with Grace, giving Danny hope that Steve's psychological wounds were healing as well as his body.

The case assigned to the task force on Tuesday turned out to be an easy one, almost making Danny believe that someone was looking out for wayward Navy knuckleheads who tried to save the world one hard luck story at a time. They resolved the situation with a minimum of gunfire and loud booms and everyone came out unscathed, including the bad guys and bad girls, which always made the paperwork easier.

That should have been enough to make Danny happy, but it wasn't. He'd told Chin that everything was screwed up and so far, nothing had changed, at least not for the better. He hadn't finished his letter to Grace—in fact, he'd restarted it three times and still hadn't found the right words to explain to her that his love for her would never change, even when his actions made it clear he was taking risks he'd never dreamed he'd ever take. He'd printed out his last attempt and stuck it in his desk drawer, hoping inspiration would eventually strike.

That was one problem in Danny's life; the other problem, the one that was driving him crazy, was Steve. Not their usual kind of crazy—this was uncharted territory. This was Steve, watching Danny when he thought Danny wouldn't notice, then looking away like nothing was going on. And in those brief moments when Danny saw Steve's unguarded expression, that's when Danny really got confused, because there was something familiar about that expression, yet he'd never imagined he'd see it on Steve's face. He probably wasn't seeing it now, only misinterpreting something he wanted so badly to believe in, even though of all the impossible things Danny didn't believe in, having Steve reciprocate his feelings was the most impossible of all. To be honest, things hadn't been right between them since Danny moved out and for the life of him, Danny couldn't figure out why. His first thought had been that Steve had finally gotten fed up with Danny sleeping on his couch, but Danny had fixed that by moving to the Hilton. He hadn't wanted to do it—Steve's house was the only place on the island that felt like home to him—but he knew he'd give anything to put things right between them.

Maybe they'd had a setback because Danny had stuck around until Steve was back on his feet after Korea. Danny had packed up and left with everyone else after the barbecue on Sunday, and Steve had acted weird about that, too.

Yeah, it was definitely time to clear the air.

Knowing that Steve was alone in his office, Danny put yet another version of Grace's letter in a desk drawer and decided it was now or never. Maybe since Steve didn't have to put up with Danny at home anymore, they could regain the ground they'd inexplicably lost.

Steve was sitting at his desk, one hand shaded over his eyes when Danny knocked on his door frame.

"You got a minute?"

Steve looked up. "Sure, c'mon in."

Danny shoved his hands into his pockets and paced in front of Steve's desk, unsure of how to start. It should've been simple—so, I bet you're glad to have your house to yourself again—but it was the last thing Danny wanted to say. But for Steve's sake, he could find the words that would reopen communications between them.

"So, listen, I've been thinking." He waited for a typical smartass reply from Steve but when none was forthcoming, he continued. "It's about time I moved—"

"You don't have to, you know." Steve's voice was uncharacteristically soft. "Danny, I swear, we can work something out."

Of all the things Danny expected Steve to say, that wasn't even close.

"Well, no, but we can—wait, what? What are you talking about?"

Steve stood up and came around his desk, effectively blocking Danny from the office door.

"I don't know, you tell me what I need to do to make it work."

Danny squinted up at Steve, not sure where this train had gotten derailed. "I—I don't know, I hadn't thought about it. To be honest, I just figured it'd be the best thing for everyone concerned."

Steve folded his arms over his chest and raised his gaze toward the ceiling with a small laugh. "Hell, Danny, only you could come to the conclusion that this is anything close to what I would want you to do."

Danny held up his hands. "Wait a minute, hold on. Are you telling me you think I shouldn't do this?"

"Look, Danny, if I've done something or said something that's made you uncomfortable—"

"You? Make me uncomfortable? Listen, the only thing you do that makes me uncomfortable is when you do something stupid without back up, because somewhere along the line, I got appointed as your keeper, a responsibility I take very seriously, by the way. In fact," he took a deep breath and continued, "I'd kinda been thinkin' it was the other way around."

"I'm not following you."

Danny looked past Steve's shoulder at the door, wishing he was on the other side of it. "You know, I was thinkin' maybe you've had enough of me. The past couple of weeks, I thought I was getting a vibe from you."

"A vibe."

"Yeah, you know a vibe, a feeling, like you're tired of hearing me complain all the time. So, as of Saturday—"

"Wait—Saturday?" The blood seemed to drain from Steve's face as he stumbled back a step. "That's—that's not giving me a lot of notice."

"What the hell kind of notice do you need for something like this?"

"Two weeks would be nice," Steve snapped.

Danny rubbed his hand over his mouth. Steve wasn't reacting the way Danny had expected and it was completely throwing him. In fact, Steve was acting like—

"Whoa, whoa, hold on a minute, I need to think. Stay there, don't move." Danny turned away, his heart starting to race. This wasn't just mixed signals Steve was giving off—this was scrambled messages from Pluto. Something else was going on here, and it went hand in hand with Steve's weird attitude the past couple of weeks. Now Danny was even more confused because Steve had actually been pretty cool about Danny staying with him at first, despite his rules and his inability to let Danny sleep past six and his constant nagging to get Danny into the ocean "just once, Danno, just once, you'll like it."

He was so lost in thought, trying to untangle both his emotions and this conversation, that he jumped when he felt Steve's hand on his shoulder. He shifted until he was facing Steve, but since Steve didn't move back, they were a lot closer than Danny expected, almost touching as Steve lowered his head.

"Look," Steve said, his voice hushed, "Danny, if I haven't made it clear, I don't want you to go, but I completely understand your reasons. You've been upfront about this from the beginning, so it's my fault for thinking that you were happy here."

It was that last sentence that convinced Danny that he and Steve were talking about two completely different things. Steve's comments about Danny giving him two weeks notice were beginning to make sense, but at the same time, it was also beginning to make Danny very uncomfortable. Steve was so close, his big, warm hand still on Danny's shoulder—it was almost painfully intimate, and Danny knew if Lori could see them now, all of her suspicions would be confirmed. And while he was okay with that, he wasn't so sure about Steve.

So what was Steve actually thinking, that Danny wanted to leave the team? Where the hell did that come from? Sure, Danny used to gripe—okay, still griped—about getting shot at, about Steve's sometimes less than appropriate solutions to certain situations, about the heat and the sand and the ukelele music, but it wasn't ever meant to be taken as a sign that Danny wanted out. On the contrary, it meant he cared, that he was committed, that he was making the best of a bad situation because he cared too damn much. After all this time, didn't Steve understand that?

Maybe it was time to find out. Maybe it was also time to find out if those odd looks and the panic in Steve's eyes at the possibility of Danny leaving added up to more than a partner's concern. Maybe it meant that there was something a hell of a lot more personal at stake for both of them.

Keeping his voice as soft as Steve's, Danny inclined his head so that Steve automatically leaned closer to hear him. "I think you and me need to continue this conversation somewhere else. Like home." Okay, that was interesting—in Danny's head, he'd said "your place." When did his head and his mouth decide to part company?

Steve jerked back, frowning at Danny. "Does that mean—I don't know what that means."

Danny chewed his lower lip. "Neither do I. But I do know that this is all going to get a hell of a lot more complicated in about two minutes."

Steve frowned at him, then his expression slowly cleared. He looked over his shoulder and out his window, then stepped closer to Danny, crowding him against the desk.

"Complicated? You mean—" Steve waved his hand, indicating both of them, his gaze never leaving Danny's face. "Is this—"

"Yes, Steven, yes. At least—I don't know, I think that's what I mean. Now can we—"

Steve was already on the move, grabbing his phone off his desk and shoving it in his pocket before heading out the door, apparently expecting Danny to follow him. Danny stared at his back for a few seconds, then started his own feet moving, wondering what the hell he'd just put in motion and if either of them were ready for this.

Instead of heading for the exit like Danny had hoped, Steve turned and strode into the command center where Kono stood watching something on one of the monitors.

"Uh, Kono, Danny and I are taking off for a while, maybe for the day." From Danny's viewpoint, Steve was trying to look calm and nonchalant but failing miserably as he rapidly thumped the back of his fist against his open palm. "Mind the store, okay?"

"Don't think so, boss." Kono indicated the monitor with the remote control she was holding. "Take a look."

Both Danny and Steve turned their attention to the large monitor, where it became instantly obvious that something big was happening, and that usually meant Five-O was going to get involved. The screen showed an aerial view of a building on fire, surrounded by fire trucks and personnel, one wing of the U-shaped, three story building already collapsing in on itself.

"What's going on?" Danny asked. He leaned his fists on the edge of the computer table and scowled at the monitor, his heart sinking. He and Steve, they'd been so close, and now this.

Kono pointed at the screen with the remote. "You're looking at what's left of the Kamamalu Conference Center. The press is calling it an explosion of unknown origin, but HPD has ordered in the bomb squad."

Steve stepped closer to the monitor. "Why would anyone want to bomb the Kamamalu center? I thought it was abandoned."

"It was." Kono turned to another monitor, where she'd already uploaded information on the center. "Up until last Tuesday, that is."

"What happened Tuesday?" Steve asked.

The image on the screen changed to a small newspaper article that claimed that the center, after having been neglected for years, had been recently purchased by an offshore investment group that hoped to turn it into an office building with retail on the first two floors.

Danny waved a hand at the monitor. "So, why does this have to include us? Seriously, does Five-O have to be involved in every bombing on this rock? Just for once, can't HPD handle this?"

Kono shrugged. "The investment company's name pinged one of our watch lists. It's being investigated as part of an international money laundering ring with ties to a terrorist group in the Philippines."

"And that answers that question," Danny muttered, hanging his head just as Steve's cell phone began to ring. Steve pulled it out of his pocket and read the caller ID but before answering, he gave Danny a small, tight smile.

"Sorry, partner."

Danny nodded, acknowledging their frustration. "That makes two of us."

***

"You. Out."

"Don't talk, Danny, just hold still. Concentrate on staying awake for me."

"You can't have it both ways, Steven." Danny licked his bottom lip, tasting blood and dust. "You need me to stay awake, then I'm gonna have to talk, that's just how it works, okay?"

Talking was actually the last thing Danny wanted to do. What he really wanted to do was forget the past twenty minutes and simultaneously unmake the decision he'd made that had gotten him here in the first place.

The team had arrived on scene at the burning Kamamalu center within ten minutes of Steve receiving the governor's call, but there wasn't a lot for them to do until the fire was contained and the bomb squad cleared what was left of the building. The fire had only taken out one wing, but the entire structure had to be swept for bombs before anyone would be allowed entrance.

With time on their hands, Five-O settled in to wait for a briefing, so when Grace called Danny's cell phone, he moved away from the scene so that he could talk to her without having to yell above the noise. He was always happy to talk to his Grace, but lately all she wanted to do was talk about the baby. These conversations were getting more and more difficult, but he would pop himself in the kneecap before he'd ever let Grace know that. No way did she need to know that it ripped him up inside to try and sound enthusiastic about a child that for a brief, glorious period of time had been his—his to dream about and plan for, maybe a son or another beautiful daughter, he didn't care—or that it wasn't so easy to just turn off all those paternal feelings in the wake of one tearful phone call from Rachel.

So with Grace, Danny made sure he was always interested, always enthusiastic, always ready to talk. The only one who knew how bad it hurt, the only one Danny could trust in the wake of the whole mess, was Steve.

It was eventually Steve's persistence that had Danny thinking about Steve in a new and admittedly terrifying way. Danny had blown off Steve's initial concern when he'd told him that he wasn't the baby's father and hadn't intended to ever bring it up again. Damn Steve and his intuition anyway, but Steve had just busted himself out of jail and they'd had bigger problems to deal with than Danny's domestic disaster. But as time passed, Steve hadn't left it alone. Oh, he'd been sneaky about it, always chewing around the edges of the issue while they shared a beer on the beach or drove to work in the morning. Whatever wounds Danny had sustained, Steve wasn't about to let them fester, no matter how many times Danny told Steve he was okay or to mind his own business.

A week before Steve left for Korea, Danny finally let it all out. It'd been a bad day, really bad, and neither of them had been in anything close to a good mood when Danny drove Steve home late that night. Maybe if the case they'd worked hadn't involved kids that had been abandoned by parents who'd gone off to make a drug deal, Danny wouldn't have been so raw. But one minute he was ranting about derelict parents who didn't deserve to have children and the next thing he knew, he was telling Steve everything. It all came out, from his misguided belief that he and Rachel could throw one last Hail Mary to rewrite their history to the moment Danny knew he couldn't join Rachel and Grace on the flight back to Jersey. From that confession it wasn't too hard for Steve to get Danny inside the house and put a beer in his hand, letting him talk about how great it'd felt to believe he was going to be a father again, only to be gutted by the devastating truth that this kid—this child he'd already opened his heart to—wasn't his.

And Steve had listened, knowing that Danny needed to get it out of his system. He didn't offer any opinions, he didn't offer any sympathy, he didn't even interrupt. He'd grunted at the appropriate moments, letting Danny be silent, angry, and reflective in turn until he'd finally hit a wall of emotional exhaustion. No one had listened to Danny like that since Matt, and when they'd finally called it a night, the noise muffling headphones sitting on Danny's nightstand at the hotel made him wonder if Steve hadn't been telling him something important, without ever saying a word, for a very long time.

Danny had doubted that he'd ever have the balls to say anything to Steve. For one, if he was wrong about what might be happening between them, that would mean the end of a relationship with someone who meant more to Danny than anyone except Grace. Second, he'd be out of a job, since they'd never be able to work together again. And third, well, being close friends was great and all, but that wasn't the kind of closeness that Danny had in mind when he thought about the next step with Steve. And to point out the painfully obvious, Danny had only known Steve to sleep with Catherine, who was most decidedly a woman, a very beautiful woman. In fact, she was Danny's exact opposite in every way that mattered, which didn't exactly fill him with confidence.

Still, back at HQ, Steve had seemed like he was ready for something, even if Danny hadn't been able to articulate exactly what that something could be. But—so typical for them—work intervened, so one of two things was going to happen. Either Steve would have forgotten their earlier conversation—or pretend he had, to spare Danny's feelings—or he'd make Danny put up or shut up.

Shifting his phone to his other ear, Danny wandered to the part of the building that was still intact, keeping one eye on Steve as he waited for the sign that they were finally clear to begin their investigation. He was in the middle of commiserating with Grace on the realities of diaper duty when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He told Grace he'd call her back and trotted across the trampled lawn to a broken window, where he thought he'd seen a face peering through a cracked pane. He tried to see inside but the glass was filthy, so he took out his gun and used the grip to knock out the shards until he'd made an opening large enough to see through.

He only had filtered sunlight to help him but from what he could see, the interior of the building definitely looked bad—he could barely make out the walls, but they all looked to be covered in graffiti. The floor, now nothing more than stripped wooden boards, was covered in trash and debris and in one corner was a pile of rags that was probably someone's bed. It was obvious that squatters had taken up residence, but what really concerned Danny was the face that he thought he'd seen in the window had looked like a kid, not an adult.

"Yo, anybody in there?"

Unsurprised to hear nothing, Danny glanced over his shoulder at Steve, who was leaning against the hood of the Camaro, hands on his hips and his long, khaki-clad legs crossed at the ankle as he glared at the activity in front of him as if annoyed he wasn't personally fighting the fire or sweeping for explosives. Danny shook his head and smiled, acknowledging to himself for the first time how truly and irretrievably lost he was when it came to the big goofball. No matter how Steve felt, no matter what they finally got around to saying to each other, this was it for Danny. He felt it in his bones, a rock solid certainty that had settled in his spine and spread through his nerves over the past few months. It was a good feeling, an honest to God coming home kind of feeling, which amused the hell out of him because home meant being with Steve—in goddamn Hawaii.

A noise to his left caught his attention and when he turned, he saw what he'd hoped he wouldn't see—not one but two kids scurrying out of a corner and disappearing through a doorway.

"Aw, crap," he muttered. He trotted backward, looking for the nearest door, finding one to his right. He ran to it and looked it over, deciding that a swift kick would take it off its rusted and broken hinges.

"Hey, Steve!" When Steve didn't appear to hear him, he let out a piercing whistle. That got Steve's attention and as soon as he looked Danny's way, Danny waved at him.

"We got civilians in here!" he yelled "C'mon!"

It never occurred to him not to go after those kids. Not when he kicked the door down, not even when he heard Steve in the background, screaming at him that the building hadn't been cleared. He knew that but was prepared to take a calculated risk that even if the building wasn't clear, it hadn't blown up yet, so that had to be a good sign. In and out, find the kids, in and out—that's what he kept repeating in his head as he started a swift room-to-room search, certain that Steve and the team were right behind him.

He never got the chance to find out.

The concussion from the first blast knocked him sideways. The second blast came from above, collapsing the ceiling and causing one of the support beams to split apart and crash into the room below. Part of the beam caught Danny across the shoulders, driving him to his knees. He tried to roll out of the way but the beam shifted with him, wedging one of his legs against the floor as a shaft of wood from the building's frame broke free and plummeted downward, piercing Danny low on his hip.

He didn't remember much after that, not until he heard Steve yelling at him again. Reacting to the panic he could hear in Steve's voice even through the ringing in his ears, Danny quickly got the gist of what had happened and that Steve was telling him not to move. He'd squinted his eyes open just enough to see Steve on his belly, maneuvering to take off his outer shirt beneath a large piece of collapsed wall that had about two feet of space between it and the floor.

It took a few minutes to process everything Steve was telling him, that several bombs had been detonated and Danny had been caught in the explosion. That much Danny could figure out, that and his leg was trapped in the rubble. But the excruciating pain in his side needed an explanation from Steve, who kept his voice level as he described the extent of Danny's injury, but backed out and lowered his voice when he relayed the same information to someone on his phone.

That's when Danny knew he was in trouble. After Steve made his phone call, he'd crawled back to Danny's side, and the race between the collapsing building, the rescue team, and Danny bleeding out had begun.

Closing his eyes, Danny involuntarily shifted his hips, trying to relieve the pressure on his leg while they waited for the rescue team. He instantly regretted it when the shaft of wood pinning him to the concrete floor shifted with him, pressing deeper against his abdomen. The pain nearly made him pass out, only the distant sound of Steve's pleading voice giving him a link to hold on to as he clung to consciousness.

"Damn it, Danny," he heard Steve's low growl, "what part about staying still do you not understand?"

Eyes still closed, Danny grunted. "The part where I had an itch and there's a building sitting on top of me." He turned his head slowly to the right and blinked open his eyes, feeling dust settle on his cheeks. "You sure those kids got out okay?"

"I told you, Kono found them hiding in the bushes, they told her that they ran when they heard you yelling. The rest of the building, no one knows if it was empty or not."

"Got it. Why are you still here?"

"I'm not leaving."

"Okay, pardon me for pointing this out, but that's just stupid. If this thing is gonna go, no use in both of us getting flattened like pancakes."

Steve scooted closer, dragging himself by the elbows. "No one's getting flattened, Danny. Rescue's going to be here any minute."

"Then why don't you—aah, damn it." Another wave of pain washed over Danny, accompanied by the unmistakable sensation of warm blood surging from the wound in his side where Steve's shirt was wrapped around the wooden shaft puncturing his skin. He reached for something to hold on to, his fingers scrabbling at the concrete floor until his hand was gathered in Steve's hard grip.

"I've got you," Steve said, his fingers tightening. "Ride it out, Danny, I've got you."

"Okay," Danny panted after a few tense moments, "okay, I'm good, I'm good. You know, of all the things I've wondered about in my life, what it felt like to be a shish kebab isn't one of them."

"We're going to get you out of here, I promise."

An ominous creaking above them was followed by a loud crack as something shifted, raining down more debris. Danny closed his eyes as shattered wood and drywall pelted down on his head, plaster dust coating his throat when he tried to breathe. Steve kept his grip on Danny's hand, using his other hand to shield Danny's eyes instead of covering his own head like a normal person, a detail that did not go unnoticed by Danny.

"That's it," Danny said when the room settled again, "that's it, you're out of here."

Steve removed his hand. "Chin's waiting outside, he'll guide the rescue team. You just have to hold on a little longer."

"Look, you stubborn son of a bitch, I got enough to deal with right now, so worrying about you getting squashed is not helping my current level of anxiety, which, as you might imagine, is a little on the high side right now."

"Well, I don't see that you can do much about it, so why don't you shut up and concentrate on not bleeding on my shirt anymore than you already have."

Danny almost smiled, since the weight of Steve's demand was nullified by the tremor in his voice. "Funny, Steven, very funny. Listen, I need you to do something for me."

"If you're telling me to leave again, you can just—"

"No, no, I'm giving up on that for the moment. I need you to do something for Grace—"

"Danny, don't even go there, anything you want me to do for Grace, you can do it yourself."

Danny concentrated on increasing the pressure of his grip on Steve's hand. This was way too important to let Steve slide just because it made him uncomfortable.

"Listen to me, you gotta do this for me. See, there's this letter—"

"Danny—"

"Shut up and listen, okay? In my top desk drawer, there's a letter, I need you to—"

"Danny, c'mon, you have to stop talking. Forget about the letter."

"Promise me—"

"Yeah, yeah, I promise I'll give it her, just rest, okay?"

"No," Danny sighed, wishing he didn't feel as though he was close to losing consciousness—at least he hoped that's all he was about to lose. The edges of his sight were getting dark and blurry, and that's never a good sign. "Don't give it to her, I want you to throw it away before anyone gets any bright ideas about rifling through my desk."

"Throw it away?"

"Yeah, burn it, shred it, I don't care, I just don't want Gracie getting it."

"Then why did you—never mind, it doesn't matter, you can toss it yourself, right?"

"Yeah, sure." Danny closed his eyes, since the shattered room had decided to start swaying around him. He had no problem admitting he was scared, really truly scared, both for himself and for Steve. This was a situation neither of them could fix or control and they'd have to rely on luck and speed and someone else's training to survive. Danny knew—or he hoped, anyway—that once he was freed from the beam trapping his leg and out of the building, he'd be fine. He'd see his daughter again and he'd finish what he and Steve had started and he'd chase criminals and do all the things he loved—if they just got him out in time.

He felt Steve shift beside him but was too tired to lecture him on putting himself further at risk. When Steve spoke, his voice sounded hollow and far away. "Danny, listen, when this is over, you can walk away, okay?"

"What," he paused to swallow, tasting blood at the back of his throat, "what are you talking about?"

"I read that letter."

"What letter?"

"The letter you wrote to Grace, the one you left in my office that night. I'm sorry, I know it was private—"

"Forget about it." Danny squeezed Steve's hand again. "Shouldn't have left it there."

"Whatever, but Danny, that's why I understand that you need to quit the team. You need to do it for your family. Plus, okay, I overheard you talking to Chin, and you said everything was screwed up. So if you have to leave the team, I get it, just don't—" Steve paused, and Danny rolled his head toward him, opening his eyes once more.

"Don't what?"

Steve bowed his head, resting his forehead on their clasped hands, his shoulder muscles visibly bunching beneath the thin fabric of his t-shirt.

"C'mon, Steve, you—"

"Promise me Danny." Raising his head, Steve looked Danny straight in the eye. "Promise me right now that you won't walk away from whatever it is that's between us."

"Jesus, McGarrett—"

"I know, I know, my timing sucks—"

"No, that's not it, although, yes, it does. Now listen to me, I got maybe thirty seconds before I'm pretty sure I'm going to pass out. I'm not planning on leaving the team, not planning on leaving you, just planning on moving in to my own place so I can stop living like a guy who sells cheap suits out of his suitcase."

"Thank God—wait, you're not quitting the team? Then why didn't you just say so?"

Danny had enough energy left to tug at Steve's hand. "Don't change the subject. Told you I'd felt a vibe, I thought you wanted me out of your space."

Steve rubbed his hand over his face, smearing the dirt and dust coating his cheeks. "You're an idiot," he said. "But apparently, so am I."

"S'why we were a good team," Danny mumbled.

Steve's grip on his hand tightened to a painful level. "Damn it, Danny, you're not a quitter, so knock it off."

"Yeah, that came out wrong." Everything was starting to fade, including the sensation of Steve's hand wrapped around his. He knew that Steve needed to believe that Danny was going to be okay, and Danny wanted to give that belief to him—and that meant no goodbyes. "Gonna have to learn to live without me for a while, that's all."

"Listen to me." Somehow, Steve managed to get close enough in that tight space so that Danny felt his warm breath on his cheek. "I don't want to learn to live without you, I don't even want to know what it's like to wake up in the morning without you, okay? You hear me, Danny? You hear me?"

Danny smiled and closed eyelids that were too heavy to keep open. Even though pain was beginning to penetrate every inch of his body and cloud his thinking, he could feel the warmth—and the promise—behind Steve's words. "I'm punctured, not deaf, you dope."

"And when you're feeling up to it—"

Steve stopped when his phone rang. He'd left it on the floor near his elbow, and now he swept it closer and pressed the speaker button.

''Chin, where the fuck are you? We have to get Danny out of here now!"

"Language, Steven," Danny murmured.

"We've almost made it through the hall, Steve. As soon as they stabilize the door, you're going to have to come out and guide them the rest of the way in."

"Got it. On my way." Steve stuffed his phone in his back pocket. Danny knew what was coming next, so as much as he didn't want to break their connection, he gave Steve's hand a weak shake and released him.

"Go," he said, his voice faint in his own ears. He hadn't been joking when he'd told Steve he was close to passing out, but he had a feeling he wouldn't mind missing the next few minutes. "See you on the outside."

Steve was already scrabbling backward, but he paused to grab Danny's hand once more, squeezing it before letting it go. "Remember what I said, Danno. Remember everything I said."

Chapter Text

"I keep telling you guys—and I told Steve, I know he's behind this tag team thing, you probably saw Joe in the lobby—that I don't need anyone hanging out with me any more. I'm almost totally fine."

Danny gave Kono his best innocent look, but he knew she wasn't buying his act. He was lying on the couch in his hotel suite, wearing a t-shirt and shorts, a light blanket draped over his legs. He knew he looked exactly like he didn't want to—an invalid—but there wasn't a lot he could do about it.

Kono looked at Danny out of the corner of her eye, her dimple giving away her amusement. "Isn't that what Steve tried to tell you when we got back from Korea?"

"Yeah, well, that was different." Danny waved his hand, indicating the hotel room. "Got everything I need right here, including a flat screen the size of a football field and have I mentioned lately that they have twenty-four hour room service?"

"And isn't running into a building wired with explosives something Steve would do?"

Danny scowled at her. "Shush, you."

"That's what I thought." Kono placed one of the bags she'd brought with her on the couch, then took the other to the small kitchenette. Ignoring Danny's glare, she unpacked the other bag and put a few things away in the small refrigerator, then took two bottles of water and rejoined Danny in the living room. "How do you feel?"

Danny rubbed his forehead with the edge of his thumb, not quite sure how to answer Kono's question. He was the guy who was supposed to take care of other people, so this role reversal was making him uncomfortable.

"I'm doing better than I was yesterday. Hey," he reached for the hem of his t-shirt, "wanna see my scar? Or at least where my scar will be after they pull the stitches?"

Kono sat down on the couch near his feet, one leg curled beneath her. "Ooh, yeah, let's see it."

"You're a sick young lady, I like it." Danny carefully peeled away the gauze covering his wound. "Here, see? Impressive, right?"

Kono squinted at the jagged semi-circle of stitches just above Danny's hip bone. "Seriously? That's it? You want to see a scar?" She propped her foot on the couch and rolled up the cuff of her capris to reveal a long scar that bisected her shin. "Now that's a scar."

Danny let out a low whistle of admiration. "Yes, yes it is."

"Then over here—" Kono twisted around and pulled aside the collar of her shirt so that Danny could see a faint scar on her neck,—"got nailed by a boogie board when I was eight. Thirteen stitches." She straightened her shirt and settled back in the corner of the couch, reaching for one of the water bottles. "What else have you got?"

Danny held up his thumb, revealing a small white divot at its tip. "See that? Last year I followed Steve over a chain link fence. It bled and everything, ruined my shirt."

Kono grinned at him. "Good thing you're so tough."

"Yeah, good thing you're not a comedian. What's in the sack?"

Kono opened the bag beside her and pulled out a deck of cards, followed by a small cardboard box of poker chips that looked as though it'd seen better days. "I borrowed these from my uncle, he and my aunt used to have poker nights at their place. I figure when Steve and Grace get here, if you're up for it, you can play some hands."

"Sure, sounds like fun."

"Cool." Kono unfolded her legs and got up from the couch. "You need anything while I'm up?"

"Nah, I'm good."

"Okay, listen, I'm going to go out on the balcony and make some calls. Lori's at the arraignment and I want to hear how it went. Steve and Grace should be here with lunch in about an hour, so why don't you get some rest."

Danny touched her arm as she walked past him. "Thanks."

Kono looked down at Danny, her expression troubled. She leaned over and pressed her cheek to his, giving him a noseful of soft, sweet-smelling hair. "You can thank me by not running into buildings before they're clear, okay?"

"For, like, the eight hundredth time, I was not expecting to be in there long enough to find out if the place was rigged. I just wanted to find those kids. Now, if it'd been Steve, you'd be all—"

"Danny."

"Yes, ma'am, no more buildings that go boom."

"That's better." She patted his shoulder. "And for your information, Steve would be in just as much trouble as you are if he'd pulled a stunt like that."

Danny waited until he heard the sliding glass door close behind Kono before he let himself slump deeper into the couch cushions. He wasn't exactly tired, but he wasn't up to running a marathon, either.

One thing he did know, he'd been incredibly lucky. The shaft that had pinned him to the floor might've killed him had it been half an inch closer to his belly button or had penetrated half an inch deeper into his intestine. He'd even managed to keep all of his insides, but he was going to be on a restricted diet for a couple of days, which sucked, but the doctor said he'd be clear by Christmas. Plus, it could've been a lot worse, and things started to return to normal as soon as he and Steve had their second post-explosion argument on the way home the day Danny was released. Steve had tried to insist on taking Danny back to his house, but Danny had dug in his heels and refused.

"Why not?" Steve pulled over to the curb and shifted in his seat so he could face Danny. "Were we not in the same room when the doctor said you needed someone to stay with you for a couple of days?"

"Yes, we were. But that doesn't mean—"

"My place is more comfortable than the Hilton, right? Okay, maybe that's not the best argument, but Danny—"

"Listen, hold on, stop talking for a minute." Danny leaned back in his seat, trying to find a comfortable position. His thighs had been deeply bruised by the weight of the beam, so just walking from the hospital curb to the Camaro had taken a lot out of him. "First of all, thanks for the offer. Now that that's out of the way, I don't want to go to your place because all my stuff is at the suite and I just got done moving out of your place for the second time in two months."

"I thought you liked my house."

"I do like your house, I like your house very much, it's a very nice house, that's not the issue here. Now, where was I? Oh, yeah." Danny carefully crossed his arms over his chest and tried to look stern. "Listen, while I am recuperating, you guys will have to continue keeping Hawaii terrorist-free without me, which is more important than watching me sleep and making me soup. At the hotel, I just have to press a button and poof! A bowl of soup magically appears."

"Someone still has to be with you, at least for a couple of days."

Danny closed his eyes and reached over until his hand collided with Steve's arm. He smiled when he felt Steve jump at his touch, then slid his hand down until he could entwine their fingers. His smile deepened when he felt the answering pressure of Steve's palm against his.

"And when you're not out saving the world, it damn well better be you. However, knowing you like I do, Chin and Kono and Lori and Joe and maybe Max and anyone else you can rope into babysitting me will be in and out and making a mess that the talented hotel staff will be happy to clean up, as opposed to, say, Kamekona leaving dirty dishes in the McGarrett kitchen sink."

"You've got this all worked out, haven't you?"

"Yeah, everything except when you and I can get past the hand-holding stage." Danny opened his eyes and looked at Steve. "Not that this isn't nice, you understand."

That's when Steve gave him that look, the one where his eyes got all heavy-looking and his mouth had that little half grin. "Yeah, it's nice."

So Danny had won that battle but had lost the war on who was going to be watching him when. Mostly it was Steve, and that was the best, but Danny had been right. The bombing of the Kamamalu center was an active case that Five-O had been unable to resolve while Danny was in the hospital, something that Danny would've taken personally if he'd been in any shape to do anything other than hold hands with Steve.

Well, there had been that kiss...

The room was getting warm, so Danny pulled the blanket off his legs and tossed it on to the coffee table beside the couch, where it promptly slid off the edge into a puddle on the rug. He was instantly cooler, but he regretted removing the blanket because now anyone who walked in the door a perfect view of his bruised and battered legs.

Waking up in the hospital after the surgery to tidy the hole in his belly had been unpleasant, but seeing Steve's face—his worried face, the one Danny never liked to see under normal circumstances—made it easier. Steve had told Danny he was going to be fine long before any doctors showed up to talk to them, but it was what Steve said after the doctor left that set Danny's course for the fastest path to full recovery that he could manage.

It'd been late when he and Steve had finally been left alone in his hospital room. The team had come and gone, and Rachel had brought Grace for a brief visit, but no one had been allowed to stay except Steve. Danny didn't know whether Steve got special permission to remain past visiting hours or if he simply chose to ignore the rules, but either way, he was glad of the company.

Especially when Steve dragged a chair close to Danny's bed and wrapped his big hand around Danny's. Danny was propped up and feeling no pain, and somehow it seemed like the absolutely right thing for his best friend—and his boss—to hold his hand in public.

"So, we're both good, right?" Danny asked. "I get some paid time off and you get to run around after a bunch of terrorists for a couple of days. Everybody's happy."

Steve didn't reply, just propped his chin on his free hand and gave Danny a sleepy smile.

"What? What is that look?" Danny had seen that look before on Steve's face, usually when they were in a room full of people. It suddenly occurred to Danny that he'd never seen Steve look at anyone else that way, not that little grin, with that slight backward tilt to his head. Right behind that thought was the revelation that he always responded to that look, because whenever he saw it, even in a crowd, they were communicating on a level only they shared.

How long had that been going on?

Slightly unnerved by Steve's silence, Danny tried a different tack. "Don't you have bad guys to catch tomorrow? Why don't you take off, it's late, you need to get some sleep."

Steve's grin widened. "Why are you always trying to get rid of me?"

Eyebrows rising, Danny tried to look annoyed, but with the painkillers running through his veins, he was pretty sure he only got to confused. Still, he couldn't let Steve's remark go unchallenged.

"Get rid of you? Excuse me, the last time I told you to go away we had a ton of concrete about to land on our heads. Call me crazy, but asking you not to share in what was a very dangerous situation, not to mention a potentially messy—"

Just as Danny's rant was hitting its stride, Steve leaned forward and kissed him. Danny froze, his eyes closing instinctively as his head tried to catch up with what was happening. This was no quick peck Steve was giving him, this was a full on kiss—Steve's warm, open mouth was pressing against his, not asking for anything from Danny but not shying away either.

Then it was over and Steve was sitting back in his chair, looking entirely too pleased with himself, his hand still firmly gripping Danny's, his eyes wide and bright.

"You kissed me," Danny said, deciding that stating the obvious was a perfectly appropriate response under the circumstances.

Steve nodded, his expression now solemn even though his eyes were still laughing at Danny. "I did."

"Do you," Danny paused to swallow, "do you want to tell me why?"

Steve shrugged and leaned back, the picture of nonchalance as he gazed around the room. "I don't know, maybe it's something I've been wanting to do for a long time and figured now was as good a time as any."

"I'm sure on the planet where you born that kind of logic makes sense, but here on earth, I need a better explanation."

Steve frowned at him. "Did you mind?"

"Did I—no, no, I didn't mind at all, in fact I admire your initiative, I'm just wondering why you chose this particular moment in this particular venue because I don't know about you, but a hospital room is not what I'd call conducive to a romantic overture."

Leaning forward, Steve released Danny and clasped his hands between his knees, his expression shifting from teasing to serious in a heartbeat. When he spoke, his voice was so quiet that Danny had to strain to hear him.

"You did a dumbass thing today. I know why you did it and I can't say I wouldn't have done the same thing, but that one dumbass thing almost cost you your life." Danny started to protest, but Steve was already on the same page. "Yeah, I know, I'm not one to talk, I get that. I'm as guilty—okay, more guilty than anyone when it comes to taking insane chances and so far, we've been lucky. But, Danny, " Steve placed his hand on Danny's arm, his thumb stroking the soft skin of Danny's inner wrist, "our luck could run out one day, and I don't want that day to come without you knowing exactly how I feel."

In an odd yet comforting way, Danny wasn't surprised. He and Steve had been in sync almost since the moment they met—well, except for the whole pissing match over Danny shooting Steve's only lead to his father's murder and some minor disagreements over procedure—so the fact that Steve's feelings had evolved along the same lines as Danny's seemed perfectly natural.

Still, there were some details to work out, and as their eyes met, Danny knew he had to ask the hard question. Sure, after the day they'd had, emotions were running a little strong, but at some point, all this honesty would have to be backed up with action and Danny needed to make sure that Steve wasn't just feeling a soldier's relief that they'd lived to fight another day. Besides, if this all went south from here, Danny could blame it on the drugs.

"These, uh, these feelings, Steven? Do they perhaps involve something a little more than hand holding and stealing a kiss from someone who is in a hospital bed and unable to properly reciprocate?"

"Look, Danny, I know you didn't get a knock on the head. Don't you remember me telling you I didn't want to know what it was like to wake up every day without you? Yeah, really wasn't talking about coming down the stairs and finding you on my couch. Does that clear things up for you?"

"Yeah, I'm getting a good idea." Danny gently pulled out of Steve's hold and lifted his hand to caress Steve's beard-roughened cheek with the back of his fingers. "I got a lot of those, actually."

Steve took Danny's hands between both of his own and began lightly chafing it. "Yeah, well, I have a few of my own, so no screwing around when the doctors tell you what you need to do to get better."

"Screwing around? Who screws around?"

"I seem to remember a guy who decided not to use a cane a little bit earlier than his doctor told him. Like, two weeks too soon."

"Yeah, well, at least my doctor works in a hospital instead of some retired black ops medic Joe found in the middle of the night so we didn't have explain taser burns to someone who might find that kind of thing suspicious."

That argument continued until a nurse came in to check Danny's vitals. Danny had lost all sense of time, but given the annoyed look on the nurse's face as he kicked Steve out out of the room, it was probably a lot later than he thought.

For Danny, it hadn't really mattered. He had a memory to guide him to sleep, the memory of Steve when he'd paused at the hospital room door, looking back at Danny with an expression that Danny had never seen before but had no problem interpreting, because he knew he had the same dopey-eyed, sloppy smile on his own face.

Waiting now for Steve and Grace to show up, Danny swung his legs off the couch and planted his bare feet on the floor. Ups and downs were the hardest part and he actually was supposed to wait for help, but he could see that Kono was comfortable out on the balcony, slouched in a chair with her feet propped up on the low wall, laughing and chatting on the phone. She had reasons to be that relaxed—the Kamamalu case had wrapped up quicker than anyone had expected—so she and the rest of the team deserved some down time, which did not include being nursemaid to a man who was close enough to ambulatory that it didn't matter.

Taking his time, balancing one hand on the sofa's arm and holding his other against his bandage, Danny slowly got to his feet. Since Grace was coming over, he hadn't taken a pill stronger than aspirin, so he was feeling pretty sore as he hobbled his way toward the bedroom. He'd just pulled a pair of sweatpants out of a drawer when Kono joined him, a scolding glint in her eye.

"You should've asked for help."

"Help I obviously didn't need because hello, I made it here, didn't I? Now," he held up the sweatpants, "this is something else I can do all by myself and as I am a very shy and retiring person, I'll need some privacy."

"Shy and retiring, right. Definitely words I'd use to describe you. Okay, I'll be right outside, yell if you get stuck."

She closed the door and Danny began the long process of removing his board shorts and replacing them with the gray sweats. He was more comfortable in the shorts, but the leg that had been wedged between the floor and the beam was pretty mangled and he didn't want Grace getting upset.

By the time he was tying the strings of the waistband, he was shaking and sweaty. He'd made it back on his feet but once he'd gotten upright the room had started to spin, so he leaned his hands on the dresser and bowed his head, waiting for the dizziness to pass.

That was how Steve found him when he entered Danny's bedroom without knocking, a habit Danny would've called him except he did it so often himself that apparently Steve had decided turnabout was fair play.

"Danny, you all right?" Steve closed the door before coming to Danny's side, sliding his arm around Danny's ribcage, high enough to miss the injury on his side. "What's going on?"

"Nothing, nothing, I'm good, just gimme a minute."

"Do you need to sit?"

Danny chuckled, allowing his weight to rest against Steve. "Sitting means I'd have to get up again and that's what started all this in the first place. There, okay," he lifted his head and took a deep breath, "that's better." He looked up into Steve's eyes. "Much better, actually."

"Good," Steve murmured. The unexpected embrace had caught them both off guard, since they'd never actually had a moment of physical contact like this. It could've been awkward, one of those moments where no one knows where to look or put their hands, but awkward was the last thing Danny felt. He turned toward Steve and slid his hand around Steve's neck, guiding his head down until their lips met in a quick, firm kiss. It was just an instinctive thing for Danny to do—he liked showing affection and simple acts like these were something he'd been looking forward to since he and Steve had started down the path that in hindsight now seemed inevitable.

Steve seemed to approve because when Danny tilted his head away, Steve leaned forward, initiating another kiss that, while still affectionate, had an edge to it that spoke of something deeper than affection.

"You and Grace pick up the Christmas stuff I asked for?" Danny asked as the kiss ended, his eyes on Steve's mouth.

"Yeah." Steve's reply was a little shaky. "She's helping Kono set up lunch."

Danny sighed and reluctantly stepped away, smiling a little as Steve trailed his fingertips across Danny's neck, just above the edge of his t-shirt. "Listen, after we eat, I want to talk to Grace and I want you to be there, too."

"Me? You sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. What I have to say, you both need to hear."

***

"Okay, you guys, I'm out of here. Steve, when do you need me to come back?"

"Come back?" Danny looked up from his position on the couch and scowled at Kono, who was standing at the door. "Why does anyone have to come back? Except of course for my Christmas party, but that's over a week away."

Kono addressed Steve, who was drying his hands on a towel. "Steve?"

"Hey," Danny protested, "what are you looking at him for?"

"C'mon, Danny, you know how this works." Kono inclined her head in Steve's direction. "You're down, Steve's in charge of you. He's down, you're in charge of him."

Danny exchanged a wide-eyed look with Steve. "When did that happen?"

Steve shrugged, apparently unperturbed by Kono's assessment. "Beats the hell out of me, but I can't argue with her logic. Listen, Kono, I think we're good for now, but I'll let you know. Call me if you need me."

"Sounds good. Bye, Gracie." She closed the door behind her as Steve took a seat in one of the chairs in the living room. Grace was on the couch next to Danny, sharing pictures of her recent trip to the Honolulu zoo on her camera.

"Nice of your terrorists to give themselves up." Danny looked over his shoulder at Steve. "You must've been very disappointed."

"We didn't give them much of a choice." Steve crossed his ankle over his knee. "Sometimes it goes that way. It can't always be fun and flash bangs."

Danny shook his head and took the camera from Grace, setting it on the coffee table. "Listen, Monkey, we need to talk. I asked Uncle Steve to stick around and hear what I have to say too, if that's okay with you."

Grace glanced at Steve, then nodded. "Sure."

"Okay." Danny took a deep breath and carefully shifted his hips so he was facing Grace on the couch. From this position he couldn't see Steve's face, but that was just as well, since he didn't need the distraction. Aside from the fact that Steve was all tensed up over whatever it was he thought Danny was going to say, he'd changed from work clothes into a close-fitting black t-shirt and black jeans, and now that Danny had given himself the internal go ahead to give in to his appreciation of stuff like that, he'd have to keep a tight rein on his reactions when they weren't alone.

In the meantime, his Gracie was watching him, waiting trustfully for whatever it was he had to say. Clearing his throat, Danny sent up a silent prayer and proceeded to give it his best shot.

"You remember when we moved to Hawaii and I got a job as a cop here?" Grace nodded, wide-eyed and solemn. "It worked out for a while, I had a good partner—you remember Meka, right? And you started school and everything was almost like it was back home—I mean, back in Jersey. Then things changed."

"What things?" Grace asked.

"Well, for one thing, I got partnered up with Steve over there. Now as you know, Uncle Steve, he's not a cop like me, he's more like a super crime fighter, and I had to change up my game a little bit. And that's what I need to talk to you about today. I, uh, was gonna write you a letter, but that's not really my style, and besides, this is something you need to hear from me directly."

Grace looked toward Steve again. Whatever she saw there must have reassured her as she turned her attention back to Danny and nodded.

Encouraged, Danny got down to the difficult part of this conversation, the part that had kept him up nights as he tried to figure out a way to say what he needed to say without scaring his daughter half to death. He'd never regretted his decision to go after Steve in North Korea and he'd do it again in a heartbeat, but decisions like that—like the choice to run into an unsafe building—had repercussions far beyond risking his own life. The next time he got into a situation that he might not live through, he had to go into it knowing that Grace would some day understand why he'd made that choice.

"So, a couple of weeks ago, I called you because I was going away for a few days to help Steve. But the next time I have to go away, I might not have time to call you and, um," Danny paused and ran his hand over his face, giving himself a moment to control the lump in his throat, "say goodbye. Now, I'm not saying that's ever gonna happen, but if it does, I just want you to know that the only reason I didn't call was because I was doing something important, something to make my baby girl proud of me."

"Daddy—" The plaintive note in Grace's voice tore into Danny, making him simultaneously regret bringing up the subject and relieved that he'd managed to get through what he had to say without either of them tearing up.

"Hey, hey, all you have to do is remember that nothing's ever going to happen that'll change how much Danno loves you, okay?" Danny reached over and gave one of Grace's ponytails a gentle tug. "Not one single thing. You understand what I'm saying?"

Grace paused, then smiled. "I think so."

"Good girl, c'mere, give me a hug. A careful hug, Danno's still kinda sore in spots."

He wasn't sure if Grace had picked up on all the undertones of the conversation or had just reacted to Danny's emotions, but it was his hope that if something bad ever did happen—if he didn't come back from the next Korea or the next bombing or the next whatever—that she'd recall Danny's words and understand what he he'd been trying to say.

And now it was time for another leap of faith. He'd thought about this long and hard since the explosion, going over the past year and a half watching Grace go from thinking of Steve as that big scary guy who drove her Daddy nuts to Uncle Steve who had permission to pick her up from school and kept a bag of food at his house for her dog. If things with Steve went the way Danny hoped—and despite all the lovesick looks and hand holding business that had been going on since Danny got hurt, it still wasn't a sure thing—then Steve was going to play an even more important role in Grace's life.

Ignoring a sudden vision of some poor sixteen-year-old kid showing up at Steve's house on prom night and being terrorized by not one but two over-protective fathers, Danny picked up Grace's hand and laced their fingers together.

"One more thing and then we'll get out the cards and you can supplement your allowance with whatever's in Steve's wallet."

That got a bigger smile out of Grace and an annoyed hey from Steve. "Okay."

"Listen, if you're ever in any kind of trouble, or you need somebody to talk to and I'm not around, maybe it's something you can't talk about to Mom or Stan, just remember you can always talk to Steve." He leaned toward Grace and lowered his voice, but not so low that Steve couldn't hear him. "He's smarter than he looks and has been known to have the occasional good idea, so chances are pretty good he can help you with whatever's going on. You good with that? Yeah? You got his number, right?"

"Yeah, we put all his numbers in my phone when you were sick that time."

Danny thumped his forehead with the palm of his hand. "Of course you did, what was I thinking, you're like two steps ahead of me already. Okay, munchkin," he rubbed his hands together, "go get the cards and the chips and let's see if Uncle Steve's poker face is as bad as I think it is."

Grace slid off the couch as Danny shifted again, wincing as his stomach muscles twinged in protest. Steve was sitting forward in his chair, both feet on the floor, his elbows on his knees and his eyes on Danny—eyes that were a little too bright.

"I know, I know," Danny sighed, "should've given you a warning about that last part."

Steve shook his head. "I don't have a problem with that, don't worry."

"So there is something you have a problem with, right?" Danny wagged his finger toward Steve's face. "I can see it, so spit it out."

Steve rose to his feet and Danny's heart sank. Maybe he'd misinterpreted Steve's intentions all along, maybe Steve didn't want everything that came with being involved with Danny on a more intimate level. Maybe playing a larger part in Grace's life wasn't what Steve had in mind—

Danny's thoughts scattered when Steve sat down beside him on the couch, close enough for their knees to touch. He watched as Steve looked over his shoulder at Grace, who was separating the white, blue, and red plastic poker chips on the dining room table, before returning his gaze back to Danny's face.

"Are you sure?"

Danny cocked his head forward, eyebrows raised. "Am I sure about what?"

"What you said to Gracie."

"I know what I said to Grace, now I'm just trying to figure out what you think you heard."

"Damn it, Danny." Dropping his voice to a soft growl, Steve continued. "I knew you'd come for me."

"Say again?"

"In Korea, when things went bad, I held on because I knew you'd come for me." Steve shook his head and looked over Danny's shoulder, his eyes dimmed by bad memories, his mouth twisting into a sad smile. "Turns out I wasn't kidding, I did think about you the whole time. That's why I never lost hope, not even when that bastard—not once, because I knew you would bring me home, one way or another."

Danny frowned at him, completely confused. Why was Steve stating the obvious?

"Why are you stating the obvious?"

"Because, Danny, is that right? Is that even fair?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Maybe the cost is too high, maybe I'm asking too much." Steve glanced again at Grace. "Danny, listen. It's not too late for you to go back to being that cop you were in Jersey, or even here on the island before we met. If you think you—"

"What is the matter with you?" Danny hissed. "Did you not hear a word I said?"

"Yeah, I did—"

"Then you obviously thought I was speaking in one of the few languages you don't know, because the point I was trying to make—a point that my nine-year-old understood but has apparently been missed by a thirty-five year-old Annapolis graduate—was that I am that guy, the guy who'd illegally enter a communist country to rescue his partner. Yeah, and I am the guy who'd be stupid enough to run into a burning building to save a couple of kids or drive toward a tsunami instead of away from one like any sane person or hey, steal ten million bucks from the state of Hawaii to save a friend's life. That's not you expecting me to do these things, that's not the job, that's me." Danny shrugged. "It's been my choice all along, from the very beginning. Something Joe said the day we left for Korea just made me admit the truth to myself and it was something Grace needed to know."

"What the hell did Joe say?" There was a surprising note of anger in Steve's voice, something Danny wouldn't have expected, given the almost father-son vibe he sometimes got from the two of them.

"Never mind, it's not important. What is important is that you know I'm here, in fact as far as I'm concerned you and I are stuck with each other, and as soon as I can move without springing a leak, we're gonna spend a lot of quality time together finding out exactly what that means."

In the time that they'd known each other, Danny had seen Steve speechless a couple of times, usually in reaction to some innocent comment Danny had made. Steve had gone absolutely still, his eyes on his boots, and for once Danny couldn't read him.

But then Steve raised his eyes and looked at him, and the smile he gave Danny was like the sun rising all over again. Steve was a man who carried a lot of heavy burdens, both professionally and personally, but you'd have to look hard to find evidence of those burdens. Danny saw them, watched for them, tried to alleviate them when he could—Danny was an expert in McGarrett, after all—and treasured the moments when those burdens fell away, even for a little while.

But a joyous Steve was something Danny saw very rarely. Not just relaxed, not just the expression of a man who'd gotten lucky the night before—something Danny was looking forward to seeing now, instead of dreading—this was the face of a man who'd been given something of great worth. Danny wasn't sure what it was, but he knew he'd do whatever he could to see that light in Steve's eyes as often as possible.

"That looks good on you, that happy face," Danny murmured.

"Feels good," Steve whispered. "Feels amazing, in fact." He brushed his knuckle across the back of Danny's hand. "Thank you."

"Why are you thanking me?"

Steve opened his mouth to answer, but Grace spoke up from behind them.

"Are you guys ready to play?"

Danny and Steve shared a smile before Danny replied. "Yeah, Monkey, bring it all down here, I'm not up to sitting at the table just yet."

"Okay."

As Steve got up to make room for Grace, Danny grabbed his hand and yanked him down so they were eye level. "Why did you thank me?"

Now Steve's grin was full of mischief. "I'll tell you," he said, "on Christmas Eve."

***

"You know," Danny said, "if we'd been in my old apartment, the neighbors would've called the cops on us by now."

"Good thing we're here then," Steve replied.

"Yeah."

They were shoulder to shoulder by the front door of Danny's hotel suite, arms crossed and feet firmly planted, surveying the mayhem spread out in front of them. Normally this was a stance they used when interrogating a suspect, but Danny doubted that anyone would find them intimidating tonight. Now that Grace had gone home, Danny had removed the top of his Santa suit, so he was walking around in a white t-shirt and red velvet pants. Steve, though dressed in jeans and a dark green button down shirt, had lost some of his badass aura with the addition of an elf cap, complete with a jingle bell at its tip that collided with his nose every time he turned his head.

The noise had evened out to a manageable level but as Danny took a good look around, he decided that the cleaning crew was going to deserve an extra nice Christmas tip after this. And Danny loved it. He loved the noise, he loved the mess, he loved that fact that their numbers had nearly doubled since that first Christmas a year ago. He really loved seeing Chin so happy, that was huge. No one deserved happiness more than Chin Ho Kelly, not after the year he'd had, and Malia right fit in with this goofy family that Danny loved as much as the one he'd left behind in New Jersey.

Eyes still on the party, Steve tilted his head toward Danny. "That was a nice thing you did. The present for the baby."

Danny shrugged. "Seemed appropriate. My little girl has a little brother, makes him part of my family. Personally, I think Rachel's gonna hate that New Jersey Devils onesie I got him, not being a hockey fan herself, but—"

"It's the passive-aggressive thought that counts, yeah."

"Exactly. Now, how much do you wanna bet that leftover fruitcake over there—baked with my mom's own two hands—ends up somewhere in the lunch special at Kamekona's van on Monday?"

"I liked your mom's fruitcake."

"You did?"

"Yeah, it was good."

"You like it because it's been soaking in brandy for six weeks but hey, I'll be sure and tell her you said so because any time you want to score some son-in-law points with my mom, compliment her cooking, I'm just sayin'."

Steve turned to stare at him but Danny gave him a bland smiled and sauntered away, which was not an easy thing to do with three yards of red velvet wrapped around his legs.

The party went on for another hour, but the entire time, in fact for the entire day, Danny had been aware of a growing sense of urgency, as though something was slowly tightening him from the inside. He knew what it was because he saw that same awareness in Steve's face, that same understanding that Christmas eve as going to be a little different than it was last year.

And, if they were lucky, it'd be a Christmas to remember and celebrate for years to come.

By the time the door closed on the last guest—Max, who seemed reluctant to leave but unable to find a reason to stay since everyone else but Steve had gone—Danny's emotions had done a complete turnaround. Gone were the jitters and the second-guessing and the hole in the pit of his stomach and in their place was a calm sense of everything being exactly as it should and a sense of anticipation so strong he felt as though he was glowing from within, that sparks would fly from his fingertips at any moment.

After all, he had years of watching Steve walk around blowing out candles and picking up balls of mangled wrapping paper to look forward to. He could also look forward to the funny things that elf cap did to Steve's short dark hair, since Danny had a feeling they'd just started a McGarrett-Williams family tradition—though he'd wait until next year to let his partner in on that fact.

But no other Christmas would ever be like this one. No other Christmas would have the two of them slowly circling the now quiet room, turning off all the lights except for the ones on the tree. This silent dance wasn't anything they'd discussed over the past few days, or even so much as mentioned, even after Danny's doctor told him he was clear for light physical activity two days before Christmas. He'd gone back to work the week before—desk duty, he hated it so much, but they hadn't taken on any new cases so it wasn't too bad—and he and Steve were back to arguing about anything and everything, which made the rest of the team very happy.

However, there had been one huge difference in their routine. Along with the arguing and the bickering and the teasing and the complaining—well, that last was part was all Danny, to be honest—there was also what Danny liked to think of as courting with benefits.

He was an old-fashioned guy and he knew it. He didn't celebrate things, he celebrated events, like his daughter learning how to ride a two-wheeler or Chin getting his lieutenant's stripes. Christmas with family was important, Christmas gifts were not, except what he received from Grace, and those would always be priceless. And when something was important, he wanted to savor every minute of it, not rush the process, and that's why he and Steve had decided—without saying a word, that was a surprise—that Christmas eve would be all about them.

But that didn't mean there hadn't been some serious necking going on in the meantime.

And God, who knew that a Navy guy could kiss like that? Those three little kisses they'd shared had been the result of trust or the need for reassurance, but Danny had never forgotten that beyond those gentler emotions was something much more basic—Steve McGarrett was sexy as hell, and Danny planned on the two of them indulging in a whole lot more than a few chaste kisses.

Danny knew he wasn't in Steve's league in the looks department—hell, who was?—but he also wasn't falsely modest or worried that Steve wasn't on board for the physical element that their relationship was about to include. That's why he'd had no problem initiating a kiss when they were switching out drivers at Steve's place late one night. It was something they did all the time—Steve would leave the car running, they'd both get out and cross paths in the Camaro's headlights, then Danny would get in, adjust the seat, and drive home.

Except one night, Danny had taken two fistfuls of Steve's shirt, flipped him so that his butt landed on the Cammie's warm hood, and kissed him. Not gently, not sweetly, this was the kiss of a man who meant business.

Steve had caught on immediately, and that's when Danny learned that Steve was far more tactile than he'd ever imagined. He already knew that Steve was kind of touchy feely, but when those big hands of his moved with a purpose, they demonstrated a talent that Danny was looking forward to experiencing on a regular basis. One of Steve's hand went right to Danny's ass, long fingers pressing Danny closer so that he was wedged between Steve's legs. His other hand went straight for the nape of Danny's neck, because it seemed that the kiss that Danny initiated was now under Steve's control, and he needed Danny's head tilted just so. And he was totally right, because when Steve stroked his tongue inside Danny's mouth, Danny saw stars, and not the ones twinkling above his head.

That had started a little game between them, because Danny, obeying both an evil imp that liked to torment Steve at the best of times and the little voice inside him that told him not to rush what was surely going to be a life-changing process, had driven home that night. It'd hadn't been easy physically—and Steve had sent him a dirty text explaining his own issues about being left alone—but emotionally, he knew it'd be worth wait.

That hadn't stopped the two of them from trying to get underneath each other's skin over the next few days. Danny took the subtle approach, brushing against Steve when they passed in the corridor, or dropping his pen and bending over in Steve's clear line of sight. Steve had retaliated by standing closer to Danny than usual at the computer table, pretending to stretch and then sliding his hand down Danny's butt when he lowered his hands.

But the best part—or possibly the worst, depending on his mood—was now they'd established a tradition of what Danny called in his head the Camaro goodnight kiss, and he knew he could never really complain again about Steve always driving his car if it meant he could look forward to that little ritual every time he got his car back.

The hotel suite was now completely dark except for the lights on the Christmas tree, a tree that Danny had had to pay extra for since the Hilton had some dumb rule about decorations they didn't personally provide. Danny had paused beside it, his gaze on a faded paper chain that Grace had made in kindergarten, when Steve came up behind him and draped his arm over Danny's shoulder and across chest, pulling him tight against his body.

It was the easiest, most natural thing in the world to lean against Steve, to close his eyes and let go of everything in the outside world and concentrate on the two of them. Steve's other hand was on Danny's hip, right where his t-shirt met the Santa pants, one finger tucked beneath the elastic band, the touch intimate and undemanding.

"Danny?" Steve whispered.

"Yeah?"

"Can I stay the night?"

There it was, the long-delayed desire of both men put into words. It wasn't a mere formality, because they both knew that as inevitable as this moment felt, taking this step would affect everything—their families, their job, their future, the future of Five-O. This wasn't something they could hide, nor did they want to, and if this night was a beginning for them, there would be no going back.

"Sure." Turning in Steve's embrace, Danny looped his arms around Steve's neck. "Unless you've had a better offer lately."

"Can't think of anything better than this, Danny. Not one damn thing."

"Good answer. Now shut up and kiss me."

Oh, yeah, this is what Danny had been waiting for. Steve's mouth on his, Steve's hands scrabbling to get his shirt out from his pants, Steve making happy little grunting noises low in his throat when Danny began unbuttoning his shirt, anxious to get to all that smooth, gorgeously inked skin. Arousal came up quick and hard for both of them, the waiting and the teasing and the depth of emotion between them combining to make any thought of trying to make it to the bed seem entirely too complicated.

Therefore Danny wasn't surprised that Steve back-stepped them to the couch, then pulled Danny down on top of him as he fell back onto the cushions. Kissing had gone from exploratory to deep and dirty during the journey, and by the time Danny lifted his mouth to take a breath, there was only one thing on his mind.

"Clothes," he panted.

"Okay," Steve muttered, but since he seemed more interested in leaving a dark, bruising kiss on Danny's throat than removing his shirt, Danny did it for him.

Or at least he tried, but once Steve's chest was revealed by the folds of fabric, Danny got distracted himself. Too busy acquainting himself with the taste and shape of Steve's collar bone, he was only marginally aware of Steve sliding the elastic band of his Santa pants down past his hips, but Steve got his complete attention when the band of his briefs followed the same path. A quick flip of Steve's wrist and Danny was bare to the top of his thighs, and that combined with his position on top of Steve changed everything.

In a move that Danny didn't see coming—what else was new—Steve grabbed Danny behind his calves and with one swift pull, shifted Danny onto his back, controlling his fall to land him gently on the cushions. Two moves later and Danny was naked from the waist down, the bottom half of his Santa suit nothing but a red blur as it sailed over the couch in the general direction of the dining room table.

Now Steve was a man on a mission, because he proceeded to slide his hands beneath Danny's t-shirt and pull him into a sitting position long enough to plant a searing kiss on Danny's mouth before the shirt met the same fate as the rest of Danny's clothing.

"Not fair, Steven!" Danny reached for the zipper of Steve's jeans but Steve batted his hands away so he could stand up and do it himself. Danny thought about complaining again, but then decided that watching Steve strip while bathed in the multi-colored light of a Christmas tree was going to have to become another Christmas tradition.

Sadly, Steve didn't take the opportunity to put on a show, but Danny knew that he'd never forget his first glimpse of a naked Steve illuminated by Christmas lights, that long, lean, impossibly beautiful body in profile erasing any doubts Danny may have harbored regarding Steve wanting him as much as he wanted Steve.

Then Steve surprised him again. Instead of getting right back down to business, Steve lowered himself into a kneeling position between Danny's parted legs, then slowly, deliberately aligned their bodies. His approach was so infuriatingly, deliciously teasing that they were soon covered in sweat, locked in a battle not to be the first to break, both of them determined to make this first, exquisite coupling last as long as possible.

Supporting most of the weight of his upper torso on his forearms, Steve braced himself on either side of Danny so that he had room to move—and move he finally did, easily at first, Danny's hands low on his hips to guide them until a natural rhythm kicked in that pleased them both. Soon there was nothing but heat and the demand to get impossibly closer amidst moans and bites and breathless, profanity-laced declarations.

Eventually—God, too soon—Danny's tether to reality slipped its knot and he was in a free fall of sensation, his entire world narrowed down to Steve's scent, his voice, his skin, his taste. Hoarse words of encouragement drove Danny higher and higher until he flew apart, shattered into a million pieces by Steve's fierce and inventive lovemaking and pieced back together by the long-denied, hard-fought love that had gotten them this far.

He started to come around when he realized that Steve had collapsed on top of him, wide shoulders heaving as Steve tried to regain control of his breathing, his mouth pressed against Danny's neck, his fingers digging into the muscles of Danny's upper arms. A feeling of immeasurable tenderness flooded Danny as he wrapped his arms around Steve and held him close, using his hands to soothe the shudders that still ran through Steve's body as his breathing began to smooth out.

"Jesus, Danny," Steve muttered. "What the hell was that?"

Danny threw back his head and laughed, then planted a kiss on the crown of Steve's sweaty head. "That, my friend, was exactly what I knew it would be."

Steve lifted his head, his answering smile a little crooked around the edges before turning into a frown. "Are you okay?"

Danny frowned right back at him. "Of course I'm okay, what are you, nuts?"

"No, listen," Steve shifted to one side and glided his hand down Danny's ribcage, stopping just above the area where Danny had been hurt. "This, here. I tried to be careful—"

"Don't be an idiot, I'm fine, you were fine, the whole damn world is fine, okay? But, uh, thanks for asking."

Steve put his head down on Danny's chest with a contented sigh. "You're welcome, smartass."

"Oh hey, that reminds me."

"Hmm."

Danny poked a finger in Steve's side. "Don't go to sleep, we're not spending the night on the couch, you schmuck. You owe me an explanation, remember?"

"For what?"

"That day I talked to Grace, you thanked me for something and I want to know what it was."

At first he didn't think Steve was going to answer. He waited patiently, stroking his fingers through Steve's damp hair, wondering if Steve had forgotten the whole thing and was now trying to think up a suitable answer.

He should've known better. When he finally lifted his head, Danny could tell by the expression on Steve's face that he knew exactly what Danny was talking about.

"It's you, Danny."

"It's me what?"

"You. You've given me everything—trust, loyalty, and God knows, your honesty. The fact that you'd let me so far into your life that you'd tell Grace—" Steve's voice roughened and he stopped, pressing his forehead to Danny's shoulder.

Danny cupped the back of Steve's head to keep him close. "Okay, okay, pay attention, I'm only gonna say this once. It goes both ways, it always has. Whatever you think I've given you, you've given right back. This is not a one way street, Steven, all right? We're partners, you and me, and even when we disagree, I'll always have your back, just like I know you'll have mine." Danny sighed, because he had a feeling there was only one thing left to say. "Yes, I trust you with my daughter, and my car, and my life, and everything else I have, because that's how it works when you love someone."

Again he waited, wondering what Steve's reaction was going to be but not too worried. He'd only spoken for himself but the words had come straight from his heart, and if Steve wasn't ready to go there, it was okay. Danny would wait for him.

It turned out he didn't have to wait very long. Steve lifted up and sat back, pulling Danny along with him until they were both upright on the couch. Danny thought Steve was merely moving them toward the bedroom, so he was caught off guard when Steve kissed him instead, then enfolded him in the kind of all-encompassing hug only Steve could give.

"Love you too, Danno. So fucking much." The words were soft, barely a breath of air against Danny's ear, but murmured with such utter conviction that Danny found himself blinking moisture out of his eyes. The fact that Steve had once again hijacked his nickname didn't even bother him, though he couldn't pass up the opportunity to complain about it anyway.

Getting to his feet, Danny offered his hand to Steve to help him up. "So, is that going to be a thing now, too?"

Looking around as if considering the question, Steve frowned, then gave Danny a decisive nod. "Yeah, I think it is. Do you mind?"

"Now he asks me," Danny muttered. "No, I don't, but don't think it's always going to be so easy."

"Easy?" Eyebrows raised, Steve glared at Danny. "You're kidding, right? When did you ever do things easy? Now, me, on the other hand—"

"Oh, do you really want to go there—"

Predictably, that set off a short yet spirited discussion that covered a lot of ground, including bungee cords, hand grenades—neither of them had the upper hand on that subject any more, thanks to Chin's big mouth—and the appropriate use of air horns, but it all ended abruptly and satisfyingly for both of them when Danny hooked his ankle behind Steve's knee and tumbled them onto the bed. Before they could get really wound up again, Danny stilled Steve's wandering hands, capturing him with a lingering kiss that left them both breathless.

"Best Christmas ever?" he asked, even though he knew the answer.

"Yeah," Steve agreed, "best ever, hands down."

"Good. Then you won't mind wearing that elf hat again. You know, I bet Kamekona could get the whole outfit—"

"Danny." Yeah, there was no mistaking the warning in that deceptively calm voice, so Danny decided to drop the subject—for now.

In the meantime, Danny was more content than he'd been in years, certainly more content than he'd ever been with Rachel even when things were going well. He still regretted so much of what they'd done to each other, what they'd lost, but if that door hadn't closed forever earlier this year, then he'd never be where he was now, which was exactly where he'd belonged all along, and that was truly a gift beyond measure.

Definitely the best Christmas ever.